Hello lovelies, and we’re finishing the year here with some suggestions to recharge your writing mojo, over the Christmas break. There’s commentary aplenty about 2020 which I won’t add to here – suffice to say it seems timely to get inspiration for the words we hope and want to write in 2021.
Here we go:
Build A Writing Confidence Bank
There’s a wonderful non-bullshitty aspect to being a writer: you can show your work. People can either see that you write in a way that appeals to them, or it doesn’t. So whatever type of writing you do, focussing on a website/portfolio that shows your best efforts is essential investment.
Here’s a splendid example from a top copywriter showing just how much she knows about her subject: copyhackers. Indeed, there’s enough here to keep you reading throughout the holidays…
It’s useful for every writer to know something about copywriting, even if we just use guidelines like how to write headlines for our social media. Copyhackers has a useful post on this, too.
Your website/porfolio is base camp for you to exercise those writing muscles, show how fit you are and prepare for writing forays across lots of different territories.
Know Your Writing Is Strong
Many of you have come here via a Udemy writing course, and I appreciate you for this. I’m a writing course junkie, but need to balance learning and chatting about writing, with actual writing. Sometimes, going on courses can be a way of delaying our negotiation with the blank page. If you’re ambitious, then a most useful course will give you individual 1-2-1 feedback on your writing.
Other possibilities include joining a writing group, either local to yourself, or online. And tech, of course can help; prowritingaid.com gets strong reviews, and grammarly.com is popular with technical writers. A free version may be enough to show you bad habits or quirks in your writing, which you can be mindful of, going forward.
Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools is my top writing primer, whatever you write. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
Plan A Newsletter
Let’s imagine you’re a writer keen to sow seeds of interest in your writing from potential clients, readers and publishers.
Where do you scatter these seeds? On twitter maybe, where they hang around for about 10 minutes, then get blown away into cyberspace? On facebook or instagram perhaps, where you’ve a vague idea of the sort of earth you’re scattering on, but not much insight into the weather conditions? Or do you sow your seeds in earth where the conditions and mineral content make the land receptive to nurture and growth?
Self publishing gurus Mark Dawson and David Gaughran go on and on about newsletters, and with good reason:
- You write directly to an individual who’s expressed interest in your words
- Newsletter software allows you to see who’s clicked on specific topics, and how much interest those topics generated, so you can drill down further into your subject based on your audience’s interests
- A newsletter can integrate into your website/portfolio, giving you a good local distribution network, not subject to social media algorithm changes or whims.
There is a growing trend for paid newsletters though networks like Substack: here’s a fascinating report on this, which explains how popular tweeters may get an approach.
Non-fiction newsletters are easier to come up with ideas for, than fiction, I suspect. And a quick and easy approach to edit is to answer: what are the top three faqs from my specific audience?
But let’s say you write spy thrillers with a female protagonist. Then you may want to go for a quarterly or monthly newsletter in three sections where you consider : what’s new in spy writing? a profile of one of your favourite female protagonists, and spy writing around the world. This would give you an overall editorial steer from which to respond to readers’ interest.
Even if you’re not in a current position to create a newsletter, planning how it would work editorially can be most helpful to think more about your readers.
Ryan Holiday’s book Perennial Seller, is a wonderful trip around what gives creative ouptut longevity and lasting appeal, like turning a novel into a classic and a bestseller. More than any other, I’ve gifted this book to young creatives I know and they’ve all found something of value in it. Here’s a quote from it:
‘So the creator of any project should try to answer some variant of these questions:
- What does this teach?
- What does this solve?
- How am I entertaining?
- What am I giving?
- What are we offering?
- What are we sharing?
- In short, ‘what are people going to be paying for?’
Be More Swiss Army Knife
In an early blog post on this site, I describe three types of writers: dreaming baristas, academic writers, and swiss army knife writers. Dreaming baristas, like a lot of us, do their writing around day jobs; academic writers combine university or teaching/research careers with their writing; and swiss army knife writers write in a range of media, and are highly adaptable.
You can combine these categories, like a swiss army knife friend of mine does university teaching as a freelance, writes a podcast for a paying client, has written an online podcasting course and writes romantic fiction, which she also makes into audio content. Her 2021 project is a newsletter for romantic fiction writers, who want to make audio.
What effective swiss army knife writers do is dig out a clear shape for themselves in terms of their enthusiasms – like audio content for romance writers – and then experiment with creating different types of media. This is an excellent tactic for standing out, getting noticed and reaching new audience, plus it feeds our creative spirit via learning and fun.
Review Your Use Of Social Media
‘When the platform is free, you are the product’ goes the aphorism, and our social media platforms love to nudge us to make more content, produce more updates, keep giving likes, shares and retweets.
But an astonishing number of us continue to put time and effort into creating social media that may show almost zero return on this investment for us…and I write as someone who co set up a community news network and got a book filmed largely using free social media.
Over the holidays, I’ve planned a social media clean-out based on:
- Twitter is great as a superficial address book of other writers – who also we hope, are readers, journalists and funded opportunities and competitions for writers. It’s a good place to cheer on other writers in your niche and learn from them. The ‘pin to the top’ function is useful in flagging up your most important message, especially if you don’t want to spend a lot of time on twitter.
- Twitter chats are helpful for meeting other writers – not necessarily readers or clients – and agents increasingly put out messages about what type of work they seek currently. Also, people can be amazingly helpful there: our little podcast poetrypause.org got two wonderful poets contributing to an episode from there. A writer like Megan Abbott uses twitter well, I reckon: distinctive, discerning, immediately identifiable when you scroll. And Lief Bersweden is another good example, with more perennial content. ‘How can I stand out?’ is the big question.
- Facebook has an older demographic and its orientation is to family and friends and encouraging us to pay for ads. But there are some excellent groups for writers on facebook, and some of the most successful self-publishers spend large amounts on skillfully targetted ads there, which must earn their keep. Again, check out Mark Dawson and David Gaughran on this. A couple of years ago, I decided to mostly use video as content on facebook, which could then go in other places like You Tube, Linked In, Instagram and stats show most popular posts are almost always video.
- For our minds and spirits, it is most worthwhile in my view developing social media content that is creatively driven, rather than money and marketing driven. Who wants to buy a book from an author who repeatedly screams ‘ Buy my book! buy my book! buy my book!’ ? Readers want to pay for your creative take on subjects of interest to them, not for your powers of commandment. Your social media can be little bunting flags to show where you’re coming from. Podcast and You Tube content has an infinite shelf-life and instagram has some wonderful – and bonkers – creativity on show. Pinterest is more search engine than social media and again has long shelf life.
- Megan Abbott’s twitter stream strikes me as having posts that she loves to create. While of course it is sensible to learn about how social media platforms work, instinct and experience suggest here that making content which reflects creativity and enthusiasm, even if you put out less social media, will make all of us happier. Ok, rant over.
Go Live And Dig Down
Finally, with vaccination on the horizon for many of us, we can start to think about attending or creating our own live events, where we connect with other writers and readers. While insurance questions may be hindering live programmers, currently, writing workshops online have flourished in the past year, with some fascinating subjects available. Just signed up and excited here for Historical Research For Creative Writers, to help with a character who is a historical researcher. Twitter seems to be the best place to find workshops, by following generous writers who share updates.
So that’s it – I hope you find some inspiration here, if your writing mojo needs a recharge. It has been a great privilege to teach you this year, and to share and discuss your writing, much of which is terrific. Special thanks to those of you who joined in enthusiastically with course creation of Write Yourself Calm and its weekly lockdown installments.
From my heart I wish you and yours hope, healing and laughter in 2021.